Data on doctors’ consulting fees hard to pin down: AP

Even with two states reporting data, researchers say it’s hard to quantify payments physicians get from industry for talking about drugs, the Associated Press reports. In a study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers examined state-mandated disclosures in Vermont, where 12,227 payments totaling $2.18 million were publicly disclosed from July 2002 through June 2004. In Minnesota, 7,290 payments were disclosed, most for $100 or more, totaling $30.96 million from January 2002 through December 2004. But records for $3.41 million—more than half of all reported payments—were withheld by drug makers in Vermont by declaring them trade secrets, the researchers said. They also had a hard time getting the information, having to file a lawsuit in Vermont and photocopy individual disclosure forms in Minnesota. Even so, states The New York Times in a separate analysis examining Minnesota data from 1997 to 2005, the records are “a window on the widespread financial ties between pharmaceutical companies and the doctors who prescribe and recommend their products.” The newspaper's analysis shows that 5,500 doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers in Minnesota received at least $57 million from industry. Another $40 million went to clinics, research centers and other organizations. More than 20% of the state’s licensed physicians received money. The median payment per consultant was $1,000; more than 100 people received more than $100,000. The money is typically paid in return for delivering lectures about drugs to other doctors, notes the Times, adding that some of the recipients sit on committees that prepare guidelines about when to use drugs. Minnesota and Vermont were the first to enact disclosure laws, with Minnesota’s law coming online in 1993 and Vermont’s enacted in 2001. Others could follow: California, the District of Columbia, Maine and West Virginia have laws on the books, and similar legislation was proposed last year in 11 other states. Ken Johnson, SVP of trade group PhRMA, said in a statement that the Vermont and Minnesota laws "do not acknowledge that meetings with technically trained pharmaceutical research company representatives -- many of whom are healthcare professionals themselves -- are one of several important ways for physicians to receive the information they need to make sure medicines are used properly and patients are safely and effectively treated."